Where's It All Leading To?

“Where’s it all leading to?” It’s the first line of the chorus in the song I released last month (I Wish I Knew). It was also my first stream of conscious thought when I woke up this morning. Minutes later I found myself in the shower singing the closing line of the bridge heading into the final verse of a song I’ll release in a few weeks titled “Better Man.” That line goes, “when you don’t know where you’re going, all roads lead you there.” Seems I have been writing songs to myself all this time and the subconscious messages are finding their way into my brain. That question and the theme surrounding it have been coming up a lot lately…where does it all lead? Where am I going? I think those are important questions to ask because if you don’t know where you’re going, how do you know which path to take? 

I’ve just returned from a week stay in Nashville making it my second visit for the sole purpose of recording music I’ve written. This trip held an unexpected yet welcome surprise in that I cowrote my first song ever from scratch with my producer who is also a Grammy and Dove nominated producer/artist himself in the Contemporary Christian Music world. We had a lot of fun and produced an awesome tune that sticks close to my indie/roots rock, storytelling, guitar-driven groove I’m finding I have a knack for. We also completed a few songs I had on the back burner and brought them to life using some of Nashville’s finest session musicians. But again, the question arises, “where is it all leading to?” 

I’ve had to ask myself that a lot lately, in life and in music. I’m of an age where you start thinking about the end more than the beginning. I’m at a place in life where I think most people start asking ourselves, “where is it all leading to?” And what do I want it to look like when I get there? They are important questions requiring equally important answers. I know where the road out of Nashville is NOT leading to for me personally. It’s not leading to fame, fortune, or a life on the road in front of packed venues where they sing my songs back to me. At 56 years young, that’s not a road I expect and quite frankly a road I want nothing to do with. My road out of Nashville takes me right back to Wisconsin satisfied I made the best possible songs I am capable of making at this point in my life using the resources I am equipped with. The road I’m on leads to writing and recording songs that connect with people, make them smile, think, cry, contemplate and on occasion turn up the volume and piss off the neighbors. THAT’s where my road leads. 

Knowing this allows me the ability to frame my expectations of where and how to approach my trip into the studio when I cross the threshold each day. I not only acknowledge my weak areas, but I also publicly proclaim them and ask for help from the multitude of amazing and talented artists, musicians, producers, writers, etc. who accompany me into the studio. I let it be known that the most important thing to come out of our session is a song we all agree is the best it can possibly be based on how well it was written, produced and played. And that’s what we did. That occasionally requires me to suspend my expectations and my ego. It requires me to constantly ask, does it make the song better? So, that’s what I did. 

The result? Some very, very bad ass tunes in my humble opinion. You’ll hear “Cardboard Cowboy,” a song with a haunting organ intro bringing up images of an old, dark themed western where the central character is a hardened, but aging stable of the old west coming to grips with his worth no longer being tied to the physical, rugged exterior he’s built his identity on. It’s told from the perspective of a woman who sees him for his tender inside instead of the rough exterior and reminds the cowboy (and all of us) that’s what makes him the man he is meant to be. The song is sexy, in your face with dirty driven guitars, framed by a hauntingly beautiful backing female vocal that gradually builds into a pounding, powerfully driven crescendo taking you to the edge of a cliff and letting you decide if you’re brave enough to look over the edge. I like to think Chris Stapleton will hear this one and think, “damn, I wish I wrote that!” One can dream.

The next song was cowritten with my producer and is an outside look at the life of a man who finds himself wondering how he got where he did in life but overlooking his obvious detachment from the unproductive reality he’s living each day where he spends more time watching the world unfold instead of taking an active part in it. It’s called “Cigarettes and TV” and I think Tom Petty would have been proud to hear this one come to life. 

The last song is an older one I wrote given a facelift called “Sunflowers in the Rain.” It takes the juxtaposition of two contrasting elements (sun and rain) and shows how their stark contrast is actually what makes them so beautiful. That same contrasting juxtaposition can be seen within the song’s main character, a female who probably has emotional or subtle characteristics associated with depression. I wasn’t confident in this song until our background vocalist who you’ll hear on all these tracks started applying melodic harmonies throughout the song. It suddenly came to life and the low-fi acoustic approach on the drums really framed the song with a folk-rock feel reminiscent of early Grateful Dead tunes (without the 33 minute guitar solos). It’s radically different than the other two songs, but very captivating and hauntingly hypnotic in my opinion.

If you’ve hung in there for my preview of what’s to come, thank you. This is a journey for me and every single one of you who comments, encourages, listens, and champions me along the way make it a journey I'm excited to be on. I can’t thank you enough for being a part of the journey with me. Love y’all.